9 Sobering Church Attendance Statistics | Ep. #132

Pro Church Daily is the show where - in ten minutes or less - you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus, while navigating the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years.

June 14th, 2018

Brady received an Instagram DM the other day from a member of Pro Church Nation. They asked the question, “how big is a small church? Less than 2,000?” Having attended a church over a thousand attendees, they didn’t realize that this was not the norm. Brady discusses the facts on church attendance.

What’s In This Session?

Show Notes & Resources Mentioned

The Full Transcript

Alex Mills: Well hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Daily, the show where in 10 minutes or less you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift that we’ve seen in the last 500 years. I’m your host Alex Mills. I’m joined, as always, by the boss man, it’s Brady Shearer. Today we’re talking about nine sobering church attendance statistics. 

Brady Shearer: I got a DM the other day from a member of Pro Church Nation, and they asked me, “How big is a small church?” Like, what’s the size of a small church? Less than 2,000? I thought it was … I laughed and said-

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: “I think you meant to write 200.”

Alex Mills: Right. He’s like, “Nah.”

Brady Shearer: And he’s like, “No. I’ve been in a church with like 11,000 since I was a kid, and then I started serving at a church of like 6,000.” I think that … I mean, I’ve served in church plants in Canada for like four straight years at two different churches.

Alex Mills: There’s like four of you. There’s like the pastor, his two kids and you.

Brady Shearer: Yeah. And I think that we’re all very insular in our spaces, and we tend to, if we’re in a church of one type, it’s very likely we’re going to then gravitate towards similar types of churches. So, what I wanted to do with this episode of Pro Church Daily was walk through what I think are the nine most indicative statistics that paint the picture of what church attendance is like in North America, mostly America, where we are right now.

Alex Mills: Yeah.

Brady Shearer: I think that they paint a pretty sobering picture. So, let’s dive right in. The first one, and this comes from probably the largest sample size that I could find. More than 200,000 Orthodox Christian churches included-

Alex Mills: Wow.

Brady Shearer: That’s Evangelical. It’s mainline, it’s Catholic. What I found was that in America, about 50 million people worship each week. This is from 2005.

Alex Mills: Okay.

Brady Shearer: So, if you’re doing a sample size of 200,000 churches, it’s pretty accepted that about 300,000 American churches exist, maybe about 250. So, they did a sample size of like the 200,000 and then they used different models to then extrapolate to the full 350, 300,000.

Alex Mills: Okay. 

Brady Shearer: That’s a lot of work.

Alex Mills: Yes.

Brady Shearer: So that’s why this is from 2005.

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: We’re probably due for another, but this was the most recent I could find with this large of a sample size. 

Alex Mills: Yeah. 

Brady Shearer: It found that about 50 million people worshiped each week in 2005 in America. That is only about 23-25% of Americans showing up to church at least three out of every eight Sundays.

Alex Mills: Oh, so that’s not even half-

Brady Shearer: Exactly. What this showed was that church attendance is a lot lower than other places like Gallop had estimated to be about 40%.

Alex Mills: Okay. 

Brady Shearer: This was a lot more granular, so I think it’s more accurate. 23 to 20, so about a quarter of Americans showing up to church at least three out of every eight Sundays, so not even quite every other week. 

Alex Mills: That’s why we say … When we talk about how much time people are spending online, and let’s say people 50 and over are spending over four hours a week on social. We say they’re spending at least four times as much time on social as they are in your church a week. That’s assuming their coming to your church every week-

Brady Shearer: That’s a generous assumption.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and that’s a very generous assumption based off these stats saying that this was only 23-25% of Americans show up to church at least three out of every eight Sundays. So, that’s not even 50%. 

Brady Shearer: Nationwide, about a quarter of Americans showing up to church about every other week. 

Alex Mills: Wow. 

Brady Shearer: Just 8% of churchgoers attend a church of 1,000 or more. This is, I think, helpful because you look up to the big churches and you think, that’s the norm.

Alex Mills: Yeah.

Brady Shearer: Everyone wants to go to elevation. Well, when we look at church attendance records, the way people are voting with their time, only 8% of the people that attend church go to churches of 1,000 or more. 

Alex Mills: Wow.

Brady Shearer: 46% of churchgoers. So, very close to half attend of church of 100 or fewer.

Alex Mills: Wow.

Brady Shearer: Don’t get caught up thinking that large churches are the norm. They are the vast minority not when it just comes to numbers. Obviously, they’d be the vast majority when it comes the vasty majority of overall numbers of churches, but when it comes to attendance, voting with your time, it seems that people prefer smaller churches. 

Alex Mills: Yeah. 

Brady Shearer: Let’s look at upcoming generations. Only two in 10 millennials believe church attendance is important. So, this is a young person in a younger generation’s posture towards the importance of church attendance. Only about two in 10 consider it important. I’ve shared this within Pro Church Nation, and I’ve had people within Pro Church Nation that are younger and would be like, “Yeah, I’m definitely in that majority group, and I serve in the church. I just don’t know how important attendance really is.” 

That’s why I gave this title “Sobering Church Attendance Statistics” because it paints the picture of a metric that we have used for the longest time to evaluate our church’s success rate, and our ability to accomplish our mission statements. I think that, and as we’ll get to a little later in this episode, we need to shift that a little bit. 

Let’s keep it going. Another millennial statistic: 59% of millennials who grew up in the church have dropped out at some point. So, that’s two out of every three millennials that have grown up in the church, have left. So, it’s not just millennials as a whole that view church attendance as unimportant, but even millennials that grew up in the church. 

Alex Mills: Right. 

Brady Shearer: Two out of three have left at some point. 

Alex Mills: Wow. 

Brady Shearer: 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance. 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance, and 50% of all churches in America average less than 100. Those all come from Tom Rainier, so that just kind of paints the picture of, “Okay, when we’re looking at all 300,000 or 350,000 churches, how do we group each when it comes to attendance?” You know, 50%, 100, or fewer, the next 40% are 100 to 350, and then only 10% are 350 or greater.

Alex Mills: Wow.

Brady Shearer: So, we’re talking about 90% of churches, weekly attendance of 350 or less. Again, the vast majority of churches are smaller. 

Alex Mills: Wow.

Brady Shearer: Finally, let’s extrapolate what we know about church attendance right now into the future. What does the future of church attendance look like? If present trends continue, which is a big if, but it’s not that big of an if. If they continue as they are, the percentage of the population in America that attends church in 2050 is estimated to be at almost half of attendance in 1990. 

So, a drop from about 20% to about 10%. That, again, is a sobering depiction of where we’re at with church attendance. Now, a couple of disclaimers I want to make about all these stats: A statistic is just a single data point. It does not tell the entire picture.

Alex Mills: Of course.

Brady Shearer: So, these nine statistics, even you may notice, sometimes they don’t all line up exactly. Like, wait a minute, if it’s 24-25%, how could attendance be 20%? They’re not all exact. But, I think that when you look at them as a whole, they do paint a couple of pictures, and I think there are some key takeaways that we need to discuss. The first is that church attendance is declining. 

Alex Mills: Right. 

Brady Shearer: It has been for years, and if present trends continue, it will continue to go down and get smaller and smaller. When you look at the younger generation’s posture towards church, there isn’t really exactly right now an encouraging trend that would say, “Hey, this next giant generation is going to start attending church the way it used to be in the 90s.” 

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: We don’t really see that. The second big takeaway is that most churches are small. So, don’t consider yourself the minority if you’re a small church. When I say small, I mean fewer than 100.

Alex Mills: Yeah.

Brady Shearer: You know, 350 or less, that’s nine out of every 10 churches.

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: Then the final takeaway, and this is the most important, all of these church attendance statistics, in my mind, really do not matter. You know, sometimes Alex and I joke about starting a church in our 30s sometime.

Alex Mills: Yeah.

Brady Shearer: You know, it’s a pipe dream that I think would be an interesting case study.

Alex Mills: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brady Shearer: It’s not a reason to start a church. You don’t start a church to be a case study.

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: So, that’s why-

Alex Mills: So far, that’s our reason, yeah. We’re still looking for a better one. 

Brady Shearer: No reason to start a church. If we did start a church, I would not use church attendance as an evaluator, a core evaluator of our success as a church.

Alex Mills: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brady Shearer: Every church, we’re trying to accomplish the same thing: Helping people to love God, love others and make disciples. Church attendance is just one of the ways that we can help that happen. If culture as a whole is shifting towards less attendance to the live weekly events, that can be really discouraging. If we’re using church attendance as the be-all and end-all of what we do, and evaluating for doing it well, I think that we need to stop using it as that core metric. It’s just one metric. It is not the most important.

Alex Mills: No, and this is why we talk so much about this phrase, “Seize the 167.” It’s not a buzz word. It’s not just a hashtag. It’s what this is all about because we talk about it. There’s 168 hours in a week, and so we talk about seizing the 167 that are outside of that Sunday service, that one hour live event. So, when we’re so laser-focused and put all of our value on that one hour live event-

Brady Shearer: All of our budget, all of our resources. 

Alex Mills: Yeah, exactly. When attendance starts to drop, we evaluate that based off of attendance and say, “Things aren’t going well. Our church isn’t healthy. Our church isn’t growing,” and then we start looking at mega churches and saying, “Well, we’re a church of 100, and we’re not a church of 1,000,” but if you look at this data, it says that most churches aren’t churches of 1,000, so you can’t look at that and use that as your measuring stick for success, and you definitely can’t use church, or shouldn’t be using attendance of a one hour live event to determine how healthy your church is, or how successful your church is. 

There is a whole lot more time in the week, and that’s that 167 other hours that we’re talking about. We have to start looking past that one hour and say, “Okay, this life is so much bigger than this one live event,” and “How are the people who call our church, or our community, or the people living in our local region, who are they interacting with our faith and our group, our community of people and growing?” And, “How can we learn to measure success in a different way than just looking at attendance saying are people showing up to this concert and lecture?” 

Brady Shearer: I realize why we use that metric because it is actual. You can count the number of people with butts-in-seats. You can’t really count, “Did that person move closer to Jesus this year?” That’s a lot more difficult to quantify and measure, but we need to start rethinking these ways. That’s what Pro Church Daily is here for, every single day: A new thing that you can move forward and seizing the 167 and taking access with those 167 hours beyond church. It’s something of a necessity. 

That will do it for today’s episode of Pro Church Daily. We’ll see you next time.